Rev. Bill Hoff – Associate Pastor of Family and Youth at Riverside Presbyterian Church
“Confirmation”: The four-syllable term denoting a rite of passage in the church, a course of study and activity (usually for kids somewhere between seventh and ninth grades) intended to bridge the chasm from childhood faith to adult discipleship.
“Confirmation Retreat”: (1) What the teachers of said course of study do after the first three meetings with kids; (2) A creative way to engage youth in new relationships wherein faith can be experienced and examined.
The word Confirmation often conjures images of stark classrooms with stiff chairs and equally unyielding youth or old donated sofas in a church basement populated by still-asleep adolescents. If you’ve ever been subjected to or taught confirmation classes on a Sunday morning or afternoon, you readily understand the challenge of planning sessions containing deep theological thoughts, Bible stories and serious personal conversation with a group endowed with low interest and low trust. Take it from one who’s been on the receiving and giving end of the struggle: it’s tough on everyone!
Here’s an idea that may help. Launch your confirmation process with a heavy emphasis on building relationships. Get the group off campus and play. Include an overnight retreat at Montgomery Presbyterian Center in the first month or two of your process.
Let me quickly tell you what we did. We began with an “accountability meeting” with parents where we went over the entire confirmation calendar. The commitment of parents is essential to an effective process. Then we had a cookout for the kids and teaching team, played a couple games, introduced ourselves and briefly shared our expectations. Then, after two Sunday morning meetings, we had a Saturday-Sunday retreat at “Camp Montgomery”.
The retreat had a theme: What does “faith” mean? Most of the time was given to group-building and play. We wanted kids to begin to feel comfortable with the adults and each other. We wanted them to connect “faith” with trusting other persons (including God). We went swimming, canoeing and did the high ropes course as well. This last activity was an excellent teaching tool for connecting faith with trust. Another key ingredient was having the confirmation mentor of each young person participate in the retreat.
Montgomery Presbyterian Center is an ideal setting for a retreat such as this. At least some of the kids had a level of comfort with it, having attended summer camps there as children. The camp staff understand our ministry and are ready and willing to help with activities, music, etc. The natural beauty and out-of-town location enhance the sense of group cohesion. There is ample flexibility in planning the schedule and program. You can do your own thing or combine with another church.
It takes some effort to get kids there (again, parental support is crucial) and not all our mentors could stay the whole time, but still the retreat at Camp Montgomery was one of the best things our confirmation group did this year.